As I write this, the U.S. Congress is trying to determine whether it should fund the Federal government’s activities in the new fiscal year, which begins at midnight. Partisanship on both sides is about to obstruct essential services that citizens have a right to expect. While the dysfunction of Washington, DC, has been mounting for years, for all but the blind to see, we have now reached the point where the abdication of basic responsibilities seems to be the new normal. No wonder that The Economist could not help itself from noting today that “America now looks like a rodeo clown.” Barring a last-minute deal, at midnight the Department of Defense will curtail all but essential services and will furlough several hundred thousand DoD civilians, including this author. It’s a good thing Alexander Hamilton died in that duel in 1804, because if were he alive to see this he’d pistol-whip the whole Congress and probably the White House too.
Fortunately not all Western democracies are as dysfunctional and self-absorbed as the United States is of late. Most are getting along satisfactorily and some are doing better than that. Switzerland, while not a very exciting place, takes care of basic governmental business better than most Western countries, ensuring order and prosperity at home. I’ve got a soft spot for the place since I’ve got relatives there and I spend my summer holidays in the lovely Swiss Alps. I have a lot of admiration for what the Swiss have accomplished politically, socially, and economically.
I find the Swiss military to be an interesting model, since the conscript-based, mass-mobilization system they’ve used since the 19th century has kept the country out of wars for a couple hundred years and its a very cost-effective way of securing peace. Plus I like citizen armies in principle as they are generally a better guardian of freedom and democracy, which the Swiss possess in abundance.
Happily last weekend a referendum to end conscription was defeated handily by more than two-thirds of Swiss voters. Not only is the present system cost-effective, it also is a true people’s army, as well as a important source of unity in a multi-ethnic state. The Swiss Army, while based overwhelmingly on reservists, nevertheless plans seriously for wars and conflicts that the Swiss want to keep as far away from their people as possible.
Thus I was hardly surprised today to read that the Swiss military recently conducted exercises based on financial instability in France resulting in chaos that threatened Switzerland. Operation DUPLEX-BARBARA posited an invasion by bankrupt French who, after the financial collapse of the European Union, wanted to get their money out of Swiss banks. While the Ministry of Defense (MoD) was at pains to explain that this was a purely hypothetical exercise, it’s hard to miss the underlying assumptions that Swiss defense planners foresee in Europe’s future.
Moreover, this comes on the heels of last year’s big Swiss military exercise, STABILO DUE which, as I reported at the time, assumed EU instability getting out of hand in Germany and elsewhere, leading to refugee flows and requiring the Swiss Army to secure the frontier against large numbers of angry intruders. Not coincidentally, the Swiss have been increasing their military police arm, since it’s clear that the MoD sees the main threats ahead to be instability and economic-social crisis emanating from EU countries that surround Switzerland.
It’s excellent that Swiss defense planners are taking these threats seriously, since the EU – like many polities – may be significantly less stable than it appears at a safe distance. While unrest leading to serious chaos seems far-fetched to many, it’s less far off than we may wish to think. Besides, such detailed planning kept the Swiss out of both world wars, so there’s a track record of success to emulate here. While most Western countries refuse to ponder such dark thoughts, the Swiss are planning for it, which is the only sure way to protect your country and your people in hazardous times. Would that others might emulate this hard-edged realism about the world. Basic governmental functioning, including having a Federal budget, is a necessary first step.